Back in Motown's glory days, the Four Tops and the Temptations battled to be the best male vocal group in soul music. Saturday night the two groups took the Constitution Hall stage simultaneously to renew their good-natured rivalry. The nine singers joined forces for several songs and swapped sets of their own hits. Though the Temps had a stronger catalogue of songs, the Tops put on the better show. While the Temptations featured only two harmony singers from the original quintet, the Four Tops boasted all four founding members.
Levi Stubbs, the Tops' lead singer, displayed the grainy texture and impatient intensity that has always marked him as a special singer. He was at his best in the quartet's recent hits: He pumped up the dance beat on "When She Was My Girl" and milked the sustained romantic notes in "Tonight I'm Gonna Love You All Over." By contrast, the Temps' new lead singers--Dennis Edwards and Richard Street--couldn't recapture the classic style of the original recordings by the since departed David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks.
The two groups pooled their voices for an opening medley of their combined hits and for a tribute to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Teddy Pendergrass and Jackie Wilson. Two of pop music's best bass singers--the Temps' Melvin Franklin and the Tops' Obie Benson--took Cooke's "You Send Me" to the very depths of the human vocal range. Unfortunately both groups discredited their old hits by squeezing abbreviated versions into rushed medleys. They'd have done better to do full, careful versions of fewer songs.
Comedian Greg Cooper opened the show with splendid singing and dancing imitations of Al Green, Rick James and James Brown.